The Nonpro Student and the plague of Imposter Syndrome

Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome) is a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. (provided to you by the ever-credible source of Wikipedia)

My graduate school is populated by a large variety of extremely talented individuals. Unfortunately, something I have noticed from many students across the different programs (and typically the strongest of their respective programs), is that they commonly underplay or belittle their accomplishments. Many have different reasons and rationale for this detrimental practice, but the problem has the same unfortunate effect in that it hinders our ability to progress. 

We are graduate students, pursuing very specific and specialized job markets and our ability to stand out is instrumental in obtaining those highly coveted jobs.

Now I am not immune to this affliction, I also find it very difficult to talk about myself or my accomplishments. For example, I didn’t tell anyone outside of family and a few friends that I had won a UN essay contest till a month after I was notified. I felt weird about spreading it around without any kind of public posting from the organization… like I would be seen as boasting or bragging… and there was a small part of me that feared that I had been chosen by mistake. In retrospect, it seems ridiculous, but you try telling irrational fears that. Being proactive about showcasing my achievements is something that I have been working on, and with the help of supportive friends and an overly enthusiastic outreach/publicity department at MIIS, I do think I am getting better at it.

This is what I hope for, for other graduate students… not just MIIS or nonproliferation students specifically, because I am sure we are not simply an isolated bubble of self-doubt. I highly encourage those of us that have chosen to work extra, take on more debt, and remain at student status for longer, to recognize when you have done something worthy of recognition. Acknowledge when you are the one leading the class or pulling most of the weight in the group project. Understand when you really are qualified for the job posting and don’t solely think you are at ‘un-paid internship’ level. And most of all, realize that if you are worried about sounding pompous or like an egotistical ass when you talk about your accomplishments… know you most likely are not (the ones that are, don’t stop and worry about it).


It’s also Ok to feel like this sometimes:




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